Environmental Timeline

1000 Years Of Solid Waste
Since the dawn of humankind, let alone for the past 1,000 years, we have generated garbage and looked for ways to get rid of it. Has anything fundamentally changed? Or have the types of garbage we generate and our methods of dealing with it just gotten more sophisticated? We will let you decide!

 1000-1400 AD
Parisians cast garbage out their windows. Although several attempts are made at effective collection and disposal, eventually the waste grows so high beyond the city gate that it becomes an impediment to Paris' defense. In general, people slowly become aware of waste as a health hazard. Public resistance to new regulations is strong, however, and primitive collection and disposal methods dominate.

ca. 1000
People in Turkey recycle marble building facings into cemetery headstones.

The Japanese use wastepaper to make new paper--the first recorded occurrence of paper recycling. The Chinese probably employed the process earlier.
Paris prohibits swine from running loose in the streets.
ca. 1150
The first European paper probably is manufactured in Spain. Recycled rags are used as virtually the only source of paper fiber for the next 700 years in the West.
The Black Death epidemic reaches Europe from Asia, caused in part by garbage tossed into unpaved streets and vacant spaces.
The English Parliament bans waste disposal in public ditches.

People generally throw away garbage in random, unorganized ways. Cities pass laws against the most unsanitary practices, but it does little good.

A new regulation in Paris requires anyone who brings a cart of sand, earth, or gravel into the city to leave with a load of mud or refuse.

Scrap use comes to North America as the first iron furnace is built in Saugus, Mass.
Jenks Iron Works in Lynn receives permission to buy the Massachusetts colony's guns and melt them down.
Residents of New Amsterdam (New York) are among the first to pass laws prohibiting the throwing of trash into the streets, but street conditions remain the homeowners' responsibility.
America's first paper mill opens in Philadelphia It makes paper from recycled cotton and linen as well as used paper.


The Industrial Revolution begins in England. It represents a landmark increase in the amount of waste generated. Waste collection first emerges as a city service, although collection occurs largely by scavenging. In the United States, cities are smaller and space and natural resources are more plentiful. But Americans have the same habit as the English of throwing garbage into the streets. The streets reek of waste. By the mid-19th century several cities pass ordinances against indiscriminate dumping of refuse and the free roaming of animals, but those measures aren't enough to curb the waste problem. Waste collection and disposal methods remain primitive. American colonists declare their independence from England, and they turn to recycling for materials.

Late 1700s
Men with horse-drawn carts make forays into rural areas to barter for worn-out farm implements and other items, including rags and bones, that have resale value.

Benjamin Franklin uses slaves to carry Philadelphia's waste downstream.
Matthias Koops obtains a patent in England for a paper deinking process. The following year, Koopes builds the first commercial mill in the West to use materials other than cotton and linen rags to make paper.
Charleston, W. Va., enacts a law protecting garbage-eating vultures from hunters.
Peddlers in America, primarily immigrants, begin collecting and recycling anything with resale value.
Pioneers heading west abandon personal belongings along the way, and junk dealers scavenge the materials along the trails.
More than 500 paper mills are operating in the United States, using cloth rags as their primary source of fiber.
During the Civil War, both the North and South urge citizens to donate all old metal objects. In the South, this need is critical due to the North's control of iron making.
Newspaper begins to describe the availability and price of scrap.
New York City's Metropolitan Board of Health declares war on trash, forbidding the throwing of dead animals, garbage or ashes into the streets.
Brothers I.S. and John Hyatt successfully manufacture celluloid, the first commercial synthetic plastic.


The industrial city emerges in America, characterized by mounds of putrefying garbage. It lands in the streets and waterways. People dump garbage, slag, ashes and scrap metal on vacant land. Industries dump animal waste in open pits or empty lots. The proliferation of horses leads to an excess of manure and carcasses. By the 1890s the United States recognizes "the garbage problem." It's considered a health issue, not just a nuisance. Cities debate contracting with private companies or establishing a municipal service.
The first systematic cremation of refuse is tested in Nottingham, England. Curbside recycling occurs for the first time in the United States in Baltimore.
Late 1800s
A revolution in the steel making industry takes place as the open hearth furnace gradually supplants the Bessemer process. The advent of the open hearth and later the electric furnace results in a dramatic rise in demand for scrap.
The first American garbage furnace is built on Governor's Island, NY.
The American Public Health Association appoints a Committee on Garbage Disposal, to determine the extent of the refuse problem in the United States. The committee spends 10 years on its assignment.
Garbage often is dumped near "least desirable" neighborhoods. Protests from residents there go largely ignored.
A survey shows selected American cities generate 860 pounds of garbage per capita, compared with 450 pounds for English cities and 319 for German cities.
The Boston Health Department proclaims burning waste to be the "best and safest" means of disposal. But because of the high cost of commercial cremators, the department recommends burning waste in home kitchens.
Sanitary engineers become more prominent in addressing waste management, applying a more organized, scientific approach. Civic organizations increasingly try to raise public consciousness about the refuse problem.
Col. George E. Waring Jr. is appointed street-cleaning commissioner of New York City. He develops the first practical, comprehensive system of refuse management in the United States. Among his other reforms and innovations, he is the first to attempt to source separate on a large scale, to allow the city to recover and resell some of the materials and allow street crews to handle them more easily. His plan requires everyone to keep organic waste, rubbish and ashes in separate containers. In 1898 he takes over from "scow trimmers," who rummage through dumping scows for materials with resale value, and establishes the first rubbish-sorting plant in the United States.
The Vienna or Merz system of extracting oils and other by-products through the compression of city garbage is introduced in Buffalo, NY The reduction process gives cities a disposal method that provides recoverable and resalable materials from waste.

Corrugated paperboard containers find use commercially.
America's first aluminum recycling plants open in Chicago and Cleveland. The United States allows permit mail, which opens the door for direct mail advertising. Anil advertising. And lastly, at the World's Fair in St. Louis, a gold medal is awarded for the first successful scrap handling magnet. Within two years, magnets are used throughout the scrap industry.
The publication Engineering News notes that experiments involving the plowing of waste into the land in and around St. Louis might offer opportunities for the systematic burying of garbage.
The first paper towels are developed.
Paper cups replace tin around the U.S. in vending machines, in public buildings and on trains. America also becomes the leading producer of paper and paper products (about 640,000 tons) and the leading consumer (38.6 pounds per capita). To meet increasing demand and the fear of deforestation, the United States steps up imports of rags and wastepaper. By 1916 the United States produces 15,000 tons of paper per day, using about 5,000 tons of old paper. Manufacturers develop means to remove printer's ink from old newspapers through a defibering process, while other processes turn old paper into cardboard and pasteboard.
Kraft paper pulp is first made in the United States.
A gas cutting torch in first used in a scrap yard in Lebanon, PA.
Source reduction of waste is on the wane because people consider it too costly and it affects too small amount of the waste stream. Incineration also struggles in the United States because of problems adapting the English model.
A shortage of rags and wastepaper caused by World War I prompts the U.S. Department of Commerce to encourage citizens to save those materials for mills. Dr. Thomas Jasperson obtains a U.S. Patent for the production of paper from de-inking recovered fiber around the same time.
Experimentation takes place with turning waste into energy, such as steam, electricity, liquid or solid fuels, alcohol or fuel bricks. The methods have little impact because existing energy sources are cheap. Also, in response to wartime shortages, the U.S. Government establishes the Waste Reclamation Service, which stresses the value of waste.
Population growth begins spreading out; society becomes more consumer-and service-oriented, and generates significantly more waste. The U.S. Government becomes more deeply involved in the affairs of the city. Filling in wetlands with garbage, ash and dirt becomes popular.
Farm use (fertilizers, animal feed) is the most popular form of waste disposal at 38 percent in a survey of U.S. Cities, followed by incineration at 29 percent and dumping at 17 percent. Municipal collection of waste rises to 63 percent of cities in the U.S. census, compared with 24 percent in 1880. In addition, the Kleenex facial tissue is introduced.

Enclosed collection vehicles begin replacing horse-drawn waste carts.
Dumping of municipal waste at sea becomes illegal. Industrial and some commercial wastes are immune from the law.
The first beer can is produced. The first sanitary landfill is built in Fresno, CA. Closed in 1987, the landfill now is on the Superfund list of the nation's most polluted sites.
Wartime shortages increase the demand for reusing tin, rubber, aluminum, paper and other materials.
Dow Chemical Co. invents Styrofoam.
Sanitary landfills become a preferred disposal alternative to open dumping.
Late 1940s
The popularity of electric arc furnaces increases. The furnace leads to the emergence of the minimill as a more efficient production facility.

In-house garbage disposal units become popular. In some cities, it's estimated that 25 to 30 percent of all garbage is ground up.
The antilitter association Keep America Beautiful forms. Also, Swanson's introduces the first successful TV dinner. Convenience foods of all kinds increase rapidly in popularity during the 1950s.
The group that eventually becomes the National Solid Waste Management Association forms.
The American Society of Civil Engineers publishes a standard guide to sanitary landfilling. It suggests compacting the refuse and covering it with a daily layer of soil to fight odors and rodents.
Plastic begins getting extensive use as packaging. Pop tops on beverage cans become popular. Municipal collection and disposal peaks in dominance over the private sector in the late 1930s, but begins to lose ground in the 1960s. Private firms become more attractive to replace city services, offering cost savings and improved service. Regional agencies begin to emerge to meet increasingly complex problems. Interest in waste-to-energy as a diversion alternative develops in the United States.
A city ordinance in Los Angeles eliminates the sorting of recyclables after Sam Yorty successfully runs for mayor with that as a campaign promise. The Governmental Refuse Collection and Disposal Association forms. In 1991, the group changes its name to the Solid Waste Association of North America.
Rachel Carson's book "Silent Spring" is published. It becomes the bible for the environmental movement.
ca. 1963
Aluminum cans for beverages are developed.
Congress passes the Solid Waste Disposal Act, the first significant piece of federal legislation on the subject. It stipulates that while state, regional and local authorities primarily should be responsible for waste management, the federal Government will provide financial and technical assistance. But the act has no regulatory authority.
President Johnson commissions the first comprehensive survey of solid waste since cities began keeping garbage records in the early 1900s. Cities collect and dispose of 140 million tons of solid waste.
Rubber reclaiming drops to 8.8 percent from 19 percent in 1958. Seattle institutes a new fee structure for garbage pickup, which incorporates a base rate and an additional fee for garbage above a certain amount. Also, a small collection company, American Refuse Systems Inc. merges with equipment distributor Browning-Ferris Machinery Co. to form Browning-Ferris Industries, Inc.
* The enactment of the Clean Air Act leads to the closing of many incinerators. 
* The first Earth Day focuses attention on environmental concerns. Recycling's chasing arrows logo is introduced on that day.
* The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is created.
* Congress passes the Resource Recovery Act. It shifts the emphasis of federal involvement from disposal to recycling, resource recovery and waste-to-energy.
* There are an estimated 15,000 authorized land disposal sites, but as many as 10 times that number of unauthorized dumps. A study in the mid-1970s states that 94 percent of the landfills surveyed did not meet the minimum requirements for a sanitary landfill.
Resource recovery becomes increasingly popular in some circles, but others say it's not viable because it's not economically profitable. Compactor trucks comprise a majority of all collection vehicles. The EPA Office of Solid Waste gets the authority to study solid waste, award grants and publish guidelines.
Waste Management, Inc. is formed.
Oregon passes the first refundable deposit bottle law.
The paper recycling rate drops to 17.6 percent from 35 percent in 1944.
The number of incinerator plants drops to 160, from 265 in 1966 and 600-700 in 1938.
The EPA proposes a drastic cutback in the federal solid waste program so the Government can focus on hazardous waste, but the agency backs off after several public sector groups protest.
The Toxic Substances Control Act is passed, which helps prevent the dumping of hazardous chemicals in landfills. Congress also passes the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), which stand today as the primary piece of federal solid waste legislation. It essentially replaced and built upon the Resource Recovery Act.
PET soda bottles begin replacing glass.
The U.S. Supreme Court rules that garbage is protected by the Interstate Commerce Clause, so states can't ban shipment of waste from one to the other.
The EPA issues landfill criteria that prohibits open dumping. The Public Utilities Regulatory and Policy Act requires electric utilities to purchase waste-generated energy at their avoided cost.
Per capita production of waste reaches 8 pounds per day, up from 5 pounds in 1970 and 2.75 pounds in 1920.
Reauthorization of RCRA and amendments to the hazardous and Solid Waste Act call for tougher federal regulation of landfills.


Rhode Island enacts the United States' first statewide mandatory recycling law. The Fresh Kills landfill on Staten Island, NY, becomes the largest landfill in the world.
A Long Island garbage barge called the Mobro is turned away by six states and three countries. The garbage, which is mostly paper, is incinerated in Brooklyn. The Mobro eventually becomes a symbol for those with heightened concerns about waste management policy. Also, the Institute of Scrap Iron and Steel and the National Association of the Recycling Industries merge to create the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries.
The EPA estimates that more than 70 percent, or at least 14,000, of the landfills operating in 1978 have since closed because they didn't meet new higher landfill standards. The EPA also establishes a national goal of recycling 25 percent of the country's waste stream. The goal is met in 1996.
Nationwide, 140 recycling laws have been enacted.
Consolidators like Recycling Industries Inc., Philip Services Corp. and Metal Management Inc. emerge in the scrap business, changing the face of a family-run industry.
RCRA establishes minimum criteria for landfills. Eventually, thousands of landfills close as a result.
The U.S. Supreme court rules in C&A vs. Carbone that flow control, the practice of municipalities directing which facilities get waste, is unconstitutional.
New York City law officials move to break the mob-controlled waste-hauling cartel in the city with indictments of 17 people, four trade association and 23 companies.
The EPA ups the U.S. recycling goal to 35 percent.
The third-largest waste company, USA Waste Services Inc., buys the largest firm, Waste Management, in a $21 billion deal.
The new No.3 hauler, Allied Waste Industries Inc., agrees to buy the No. 2 company, Brown-Ferris Industries, in a deal worth more than $9 billion.


Garbage: The Long View & Trash timeline: 1,000 years of waste, Allan Geriat, Waste News, May 3, 1999

Garbage in the Cities by Martin V. Melosi; the Association of Science and-Technology Center Inc. and the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service; The BFI Story; the National Solid Wastes Management Association; Recycled Papers; The Essential Guide by Claudia G. Thompson; The Illustrated history of Recycling; the Integrated Waste Services Association; the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries; Waste News; industry sources.